School of Business

VCU Blogs

By: Megan Nash

Aubriel Rivera, co-founder of Kasama Collective and two-time VCU alumni (B.F.A. ’12, M.S. ’15) is redefining what community engagement looks like in Richmond’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Blending academic prowess with entrepreneurial flair, the collective has turned heads, filled streets and sparked vital conversations all within its first year.

From a single Instagram post to a community cornerstone, Rivera’s community leadership is inspiring a wave of cultural pride and connection that’s as spirited as it is significant. Read on for her thoughts on Kasama’s one-year anniversary, leadership and what inspires her to drive change in the AAPI community.

How did your education at the VCU School of Business or time at VCU influence your approach to entrepreneurship and community leadership?

My education at the VCU School of Business played a CRUCIAL role in shaping my approach to entrepreneurship and community leadership. The coursework and hands-on experiences I gained during my time at VCU provided me with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively navigate the business world and make a positive impact in my community with Kasama Collective.

The School of Business taught me the importance of strategic planning, financial management and marketing strategies, which are essential components of starting and running a successful non-profit organization. Additionally, my involvement with the Executive Board of FACT@VCU fostered a culture of networking and leadership development. It was with FACT@VCU where I learned the importance of building relationships, collaborating with others and focusing on positive change to achieve shared goals. 

Kasama Collective has now been active for a year! Can you share some of the most impactful moments or achievements that have stood out to you during this time?

Absolutely! It has been an incredible journey over the past year with Kasama Collective, and there have been several moments that stand out and that I cherish:

1. Our first event: Our first event remains one of my most memorable moments with Kasama Collective. It was just Roxanne [Atienza] and I that started Kasama; and it all started with a simple Instagram account and one Instagram post for this new event we were hosting. We had a DJ (one of our friends), and seven market vendors who all found us on Instagram. We didn’t know who, if anyone, would come. To see the community come out and show support and, at times, max capacity the deck of Vasen Brewing, was jaw-dropping. We just couldn’t believe it. 

2. Building partnerships & The Lunar New Year Street Food Festival: Believe it or not, we planned the Lunar New Year Street Food Festival (our most successful event to date) in ONLY 41 DAYS. We’d be remiss if we didn’t shout through the rooftops our admiration and adoration for Lauren V. with Richmond Moon Market (Richmond market scene ROYALTY) who without her expertise and tenure we’d be lost with. We learned with this event that partnerships were key in our growth and future success. And it’s just more fun to plan events with friends!

3. Recognition & impact stories: Throughout this year, we have been lucky to be featured in local media outlets and social media pages. We have also been honored to hear stories from those who have come to our events. Stories of finding home, comfort, community and identity by coming to our events, seeing new collaborations and friendships being made; introducing AAPI culture unapologetically to the Richmond community; that’s really the best thing out of all of our work. 

With the one-year milestone, are there new directions or projects you are particularly excited about?

Yes! As we celebrate our one-year milestone, we are excited for bigger, better and more impactful events to amplify AAPI owned businesses, creatives, and entrepreneurs and AAPI identity.  

This year, we are already in the works for panel-led Q&As and workshops discussing the AAPI Queer Experience in June to celebrate Pride Month! We have an exciting group of prolific speakers for this event, and we are partnering with our friends at Gold Lion Cafe

We are also excited to partner again with Richmond Moon Market and be featured at First Fridays in September in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival; doing a 50+ vendor market + entertainment & more along the Gallery5 blocks. This will be our first time ever hosting a market at First Friday & cannot wait to decorate the streets with red lanterns!

Third, we are doing our first collaborative event with fellow Virginia Beach organization, Mabuhay757, in Virginia Beach, also in September. We are excited to provide a space for 804 and 757 vendors to network, and introduce 804 businesses to the 757, and vice versa!

Lastly, the Lunar New Year Street Food Festival will be back in 2025 with a bigger venue, more food and bigger dreams! 

The theme for AAPI Heritage Month for 2024 is “Advancing Leaders Through Innovation.” Where do you see innovation being integrated within the RVA AAPI business community?

I definitely believe embracing technology, digital tools and social media can help AAPI businesses streamline operations, reach new customers and enhance their online presence. Consistently being on social media provides data analytics that can help businesses adapt to changing consumer preferences, be up to date with social causes and news, engaging with the community directly and continuously be top of mind.

I also believe in the power of creativity. Creativity IS the innovation. I think of the reasons why Kasama Collective is successful is our creativity and persistence in pushing the envelope in regard to delivering a creative event experience i.e. it’s not just a one-year anniversary event, it’s an all-out market event themed as a one-year old’s birthday party complete with pinatas, a pink bounce house and balloons as far as the eye can see. It’s not just another Pride event; it’s an all-out music festival with all LGBTQIA+ AAPI performers inside the mystical Reveler Experiences; etc. I think all businesses could benefit with prioritizing creativity, whether it be through its marketing endeavors, leadership, etc.

Can you discuss the significance of representation in leadership and community programs? Are there any challenges you’ve faced and overcame as an AAPI leader?

Representation in leadership and community programs ensures that the voices and perspectives of diverse communities, including the AAPI community, are heard and valued. When individuals from underrepresented backgrounds are in leadership positions, they can bring unique insights, experiences, and ideas to the table, leading to more inclusive decision-making processes and better outcomes for all stakeholders.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, yes, there have been many challenges I’ve faced as a woman and being Filipina. Things like microaggressions, being type-casted or overtly racist remarks spoken to me or behind my back are the exact reasons why I was so passionate about Kasama Collective existing – to provide a space for those marginalized and who felt like they couldn’t speak up or felt like they weren’t seen or represented. 

My mission is to continue to be an advocate for equality and representation and being a voice to creating a more inclusive community. 

What advice do you have for current VCU students looking to create positive change in their communities?

What’s that saying that the kids on TikTok are saying these days? “Become delu-lu until it comes true-lu-lu?” HAHAHAH

But on a serious note, I completely resonate with that phrase. Find what you are PASSIONATE about and be unapologetically gung-ho about it. You must believe in yourself and love yourself first before anyone else will believe in and love you. 

Also, always be kind. You will go far with treating everyone with respect and care. What’s that other phrase? “You attract more bees with honey, not vinegar?” 

Lastly, stay persistent and consistent. Change does not come easily, nor does it come overnight, so be prepared to be at it for the long-haul. Show up every day like it’s your first day on the job and never lose the spark.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you again for your time on this piece. It is so refreshing and rewarding to be on the other side of the coin and watching the next generation take charge and I’m excited to see what they all do next. 

For more AAPI celebrations, follow us on the VCU Business LinkedIn and Instagram pages throughout the month of May!

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